Debra Darvickenhance your now in word and image
We are in the middle of the Hebrew month of Elul, the month leading into the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement. Tradition teaches that during Elul, “the King” descends from the Heavenly castle and walks through the fields, accessible to all who yearn for connection with the Divine. It is a month when we are urged to look inward and face our shortcomings; to look back over the past year and take stock of where our actions did not measure up to the self we want to be; to look forward to these imminent Holy Days of celebration, prayer, repentence, forgiveness and hope.
As we hope to be forgiven, we also struggle to forgive others. Do they not deserve what we so dearly pray for? Our tormentors are human, too. They suffer the same shortcomings as we do. Why is forgiving such a challenge? Why do we hold on to our wounds so tightly? As I meditated this morning an image came to me of a tightly buttoned coat. We all wear such a coat, woven on a loom of sorrow and anger, disappointment and resentment. Fastened with buttons that symbolize blows to our heart, this coat often becomes justification for who we have become, for how our life has turned out.
Take a few minutes of quiet and settle into your coat. Feel its contours, the seams of righteous hurt that hold it together. Mentally finger its many buttons. Perhaps the top one was formed of a primal trauma; the two below it the consequences that followed. The next one, big and square, has sharp pointed corners. Perhaps they remind you of thoughtless words and deeds sent your way once, twice and thrice upon a time. There are buttons below this one: small, medium and large. You know who gave them to you; you keep them tightly sewn to your coat like a merit badge earned in Scouts.
What would it take to undo the buttons? To shuck the coat once and for all and be free? Not entirely free from the pain perhaps, but free from the constriction that keeps you from living fully and imbued with the joyful life you deserve. Could you undo a button and forgive the one who gave it to you? Maybe just a small one. And then what about another? Forgiveness doesn’t mean what was done to you was OK. Forgiveness means you will no longer allow another’s ineptitude to comandeer your life. Try another button. Can you feel the coat loosening? Inhale deeply. Feel the freedom that forgiving another brings you.
This is hard work. It is not completed in a single month or even in a lifetime. Yet year after year, this month of Elul gives us the opportunity to practice forgiveness, to strive toward becoming the person we want to be, to be forgiven and enter each New Year cleansed, hopeful, and inspired. And the coat? You may well reach for it again out of habit. It is familiar and quite comfortable after all. Without thinking, you might even put it on. But in this new year, perhaps you’ll simply place it lightly around your shoulders. Or carry it over an arm for a day or two. The buttons you can leave alone.
Our summer study of Psalms ended with Psalm 150, the last one in the Book of Psalms and thus the last writing in the entire canon known as Writings, in Hebrew, Ketuvim. Psalm 150 is a joyous song of God-praise. Its words are words of honor, gratitude, and love.
As we have done with each of the ten Psalms we studied, we took it upon ourselves to “make Psalm 150 our own.” How we did this was up to us: choosing, and expanding upon, a single line that spoke to us; drawing a verse or the entire Psalm; setting it to music or dance; re-writing it in personally meaningful way. Psalm 150 is filled with with jubilation: blasts from a ram’s horn. lutes and lyres, clanging cymbals. It is filled with Hallelujahs, in Hebrew “Praise Yah!”
Here is what Psalm 150 inspired me to write:
the voices of all souls,
all the notes of your music
and motes of your light
could find their way
to praise You.
giver of life.
sustainer of breath.
Resident within and essence of,
like a synecdoche You
are the heavens.
here at the keyboard
it’s just me.
Whose soul will praise you.
Whose breath will acclaim you
with the drum of her heart
and the strings of her tendons.
With her palms as cymbals,
her lips pursed into flute.
if you are synecdoche then
so am I.
And thus, the voices of all souls
Debra Darvick, 2021
*The female indwelling presence of God.
The photo at the left is my mother at age four or five.
It was likely taken by her father, Dr. Jacob Moses Leavitt.
I am studying Psalms with a group on Zoom. Each week, in addition to studying, discussing and taking apart the week’s Psalm, we have the opportunity to interpret it, rewrite it, draw or paint it, set it to music. A couple of weeks ago a line in Psalm 42 inspired this poem. Hear my reading of it, if you like.
“…my enemies revile me when they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ “ Psalm 42:11
Oh, you enemies!
Would you stop already?
Reviling us since,
Taunting, torturing. terrorizing.
taking our lives.
And for what?
To still your own mishegoss?
Soothe your envy?
Quiet your incessant fears?
Your perennial angst that
we grow too large?
Pharaoh tried. Abimelech, too.
At the very edge of milk and honey.
His curses sprouted blessings.
We wove them into song.
Daily song, no less.
“Where is your God?”
Funny you should ask.
Did you forget that
water became blood
staff became serpent
an entire raging sea
became a dry path to freedom?
Has it worked,
this obsession of yours?
Are we gone?
Have we quit?
Give it up.
Have you phased out the moon?
Placed a bit upon curling tongues
and halted the oceans?
Rockets and planes aside,
Have you forced gravity into submission?
“Where is your God?” you ask.
As if one bad day or pogrom or
Holocaust proves anything
but your own eternal sickness.
Our God is here.
Our. God. Is. Here.
In our prayers.
In our hope.
In our desperation
and in our anger.
In our believing
“Where is your God?” you ask.
Our God is in our living.
Give it up, silly kinder. Let it go.
As the moon
as the tides
We are here. Ad Olam.
Debra B Darvick © 2021
Dor l’dor — from generation to generation
mishegoss — craziness; senseless behavior
Ginnick — enough
kinder — children (rhymes with cinder)
photo courtesy of Martin Darvick
My dear friend, Laya Crust, sent this beautiful painting to me. Her work is steeped in Jewish history, tradition and beauty. “I was wondering what I could do with my sadness over the situation in the world,” she wrote me. “The hatred is frightening. So, I wrote out these phrases and the prayer.”
She asked me to share the prayer and her visual evocation of the words. I am deeply moved and grateful to do so. For an additional sensory experience, here is the Hebrew prayer set to music composed by Julie Silver
Following my last post in this space, my rabbi sent me a link to an essay written by an Israeli tour guide and educator. In his essay he offers a thoughtful and well-considered perspective on the current dispute in Sheikh Jarrah.
I debated when it came time to fill this drawer in the cabinet. Do I write about the past two weeks in Israel? How can I not? Do I offer my opinion? Possibly. Do I want to engage in a discussion of the many rights and wrongs? Toward what end? Does it enhance anyone’s now to bring war into this space? You decide.
In the end, I gathered links to articles and information that are rarely shared by the American press.
Matti Friedman from Israel
How does terror benefit the terrorists?
Terror attacks on Jews in NYC by Palestinians
Reporting on war from the war zone
Israeli comic rebuts John Oliver’s latest
We have just passed the midway mark of the Counting of the Omer, the 49-day period between the second night of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. In ancient times, at the beginning of the spring agricultural season, an omer (sheaf) of barley was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem as a gratitude offering on each of the ensuing 49 days. The Temple’s destruction in 70 C.E. ended the sacrificial system. Counting the Omer was ultimately transformed into a seven-week period of spiritual exploration. In this way, Jews have the opportunity to embark upon a spiritual journey that mirrors the ancient Hebrews’ physical journey of liberation from slavery (the Passover celebration) to the receiving of the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai (the celebration of the holiday of Shavuot.)
For the past month I have been part of an online group that is counting the omer, following the structure laid out by the Kabbalists of the 17th and 18th centuries. These masters assigned to each of the seven weeks one of seven earthly emanations of the Divine: chesed (lovingkindness), g’vurah (boundaries), tif’eret (splendor/balance), netzach (endurance), hod (gratitude/humility), y’sod (intimacy) and malchut (reign/responsibility). Each day of the week embodies one of these seven qualities as well. If this sounds a bit complicated and overwhelming, it is. Yet each year I engage with this process, some nuance or other becomes clearer. Progress not perfection is our motto.
The Kabbalists taught that all seven of these earthly Divine emanations reside within each of us. One person might be quite comfortable establishing boundaries; another opens easily to lovingkindness while another struggles to cultivate endurance. The object of this inner work is to find the “sweet spot” of these character traits. If establishing boundaries comes easily to me, do I need to examine if my boundaries sometimes become walls preventing deeper personal connections? Is my lovingkindness so bountiful that I tip over into exhaustion and resentment, or have I learned to balance giving of myself with replenishing the well? Day by day our group reads and discusses where we slip up and where we glide forward.
We are now in the week of hod or gratitude, which in Hebrew is translated as “recognizing the good.” Gratitude in this sense isn’t the outpouring of ecstatic thanks but instead calls on us to take a moment, many moments in fact, to recognize our good fortune. Even in the most trying of times, we are bidden to find a kernel of light to appreciate. Something my husband does might set me off until I realize how fortunate I am to have him beside me each night and to wake up to his loving hug each morning. How can irritation not melt in the face of such blessings?
Self-awarness is a double-edged sword. The more aware I become of my thoughts and my reactions, the more I realize how far I have to go. What a judgmental, impatient, ungenerous wretch I can be! In those moments I remember again and again, “Progress, not perfection.” We are all works in progress until we draw our last breath.
Over these intense forty-nine days of counting the omer, I count my blessings, count my progress, and count to ten when the need arises. Each morning, members of our group bring sheaves of hope, determination, confusion, and more with the intention that at the end of this seven-week period we will have shaken free of enough chaff to be worthy to receive the words of Torah once again. Progress, not perfection. Yes.